Workshop, interactive art show

By Katy Nielsen

Saws, hammers and other workshop tools hang from the walls, tree branches are piled in a corner and two barbells carved from tree stumps sit on a shelf.

This is part of Columbia’s latest exhibit, “Tomboy,” featuring the work of six contemporary, queer female artists. The artists said the show is about having fun and getting physically involved.

The exhibit has a sense of humor, which the artists said makes it a fun event rather than a serious, formal political conversation. It is currently on display at the Glass Curtain Gallery in the 1104 Center, 1104 S. Wabash Ave.

One of the show’s artists, Mary George, creates interactive art. She founded the Cult of the Endorphin, a group that seeks out natural highs such as wood chopping and jogging in the forest.

Her part of the exhibition involves the carpenter tools.

“I have bits and pieces from nature you can use to make yourself strong,” George said. “Making art can be exercise like a natural gym workshop, caveman style.”

George said she hopes people who visit the exhibit will interact with the objects and use the tools to create something of their own out of wood.

She said she highlights the disconnect between nature and commercialism with her art in fun ways, with the wood shop being one of them. She also creates commercials that do not advertise products but show activities people can do

by themselves.

“My methods are slightly humorous,” George said.

Russian-born artist Leeza Meksin works with film, sculptures, installation art, organic materials and fabrics. Some of her work is also displayed in the exhibit. Meksin said she too presents playfulness in her artwork.

In addition to spandex costumes, Meksin sewed “douche bags” for the show. The bags are based on high-end designer bags she recreated using bras.

“Everybody’s work [in the show] is so different, you can’t really stereotype what a ‘Tomboy’ would make,” George said.

The “Tomboy” label is something George said people have assigned to her.

While the show features the work of queer women, George said it demonstrates how being a gay artist is not a big issue these days.

“There’s really no expectation of making gay art or having to explain who you are,” George said. “You can be seen in that light or you can just be seen as an artist.”

George hopes the show will spark a conversation among people who attend concerning what they expected to see at a queer women’s art exhibit and what the experience was like.

“I think it’s really cool the exhibit has nothing to do with queerness, like maybe it’s part of an evolution,” said Shahin Murray, first-year graduate student in the Arts, Entertainment and Media Management Department, who works in the LGBTQ office of Culture and Community at Columbia.

Meksin said the “Tomboy” theme allowed her to play with labels and extremes in a fun way.

“I really like the term tomboy,” Meksin said. “I think it implies a certain level of disobedience and, obviously, boyishness. I’m more on the femme side of things, and my work involves a lot of sewing and soft, organic materials. ‘Tomboy’ becomes more of an attitude opposed to a certain kind of sexual outfit.”

The literal idea of an outfit, costume and drag attire is a big part of what she creates, Meksin said.

“It’s the idea of being rebellious to the binary system and not letting it control the way you see yourself as an artist or as a person,” Meksin said.

The show is meant to connect with everybody and create a dialogue in a fun way, while questioning labels, Meksin said.

“You don’t need to be gay to question all kinds of binaries,” Meksin said. “I feel like everybody’s struggling with something.

For some people it’s sexuality, for some it’s about race and for some it’s about money. These things are part of human existence.”

Meksin said “Tomboy” became a lens to view gender, sexuality, and many other things that tend to group people into black and white categories.

“The idea is to make the work appeal to people, make them question things,” Meksin said. “At the same time, make it entertaining and about enjoying just being here.”

The Glass Curtain Gallery in the 1104 Center, 1104 S. Wabash Ave., will feature the “Tomboy” exhibition through Jan. 7, 2011. Gallery hours are Monday to Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday from noon to 7 p.m.